Most discussions on the state and legacy of the internet and its role in our daily lives often revisit one crucial aspect: information.
The internet has ushered in an age of informational overload. We are swamped with amounts of data so vast that it boggles the mind just thinking about it.
In a typical day, we are bombarded with news, pop-up ads, Youtube links, political blogs, facebook notifications and emails.
It is intimidating. In the same way that looking into vastness of the starry sky can remind you of how insignificant our little planet is, being on the internet gives you the same feeling from a personal point of view.
When Guttenberg invented the printing press, he could not possibly have known that his actions would eventually give way to this digital nirvana.
In light of this, it is interesting to watch how the younger generation has taken to the digital waterworld. I once watched my ten year old brother surfing on the internet.
He had about eight windows open and he was zooming back and forth with clinical precision. It was quite a wonder to behold.
Of course on the one hand, having all this data around us and metaphorically drowning in it is a good thing. And there is a gratifying proximity to all this data too- computers, phones, I Pods...you can get connected in dozens of ways.
It is intoxicating to think that we can now interact with all this data on a daily basis. It’s tremendously beneficial, not only from a practical point of view, but from an educational one too. And from a less-serious angle, there has never been a better time to have a hobby.
On the other hand it does make me wonder, how does the interaction with this informational overload affect the digital generation?
Having access to so much creates a form of attention deficit disorder. Nobody wants to dwell too long on any page or piece of information because the quantity of information is so large that they have become accustomed to skimming data and moving along to the next bit.
The ability to have a long attention span loses its value.
And it seems to me that there is a paradoxical effect at work- the very ubiquity of this information can devalue it to a certain extent.
As economists know well, too much of anything can quickly turn a positive into a negative. And this disorienting effect can make decision-making a lot more difficult.
The result inevitably is a focus on the more shallow and easy to read aspects of the net. I discussed this in a previous article, with reference to communication technology, and I think it holds true in this case too.
And another paradox arising from this is that we often appear to be less informed than ever before even as we swim in a sea of information. We take less and less of it in and we don’t attach much value to knowledge in of itself.
I guess the question here is what weight we attach to data that is not beneficial to us in a practical way, but that is a story for another time.
Talking about how ‘well’ people use the internet might seem perverse- ‘People surf what interests them- it is as simple as that’ you might say.
But how we react to this is a valuable insight into how we will develop. The internet remains a force of cultural evolution for better or worse.
Minega Isibo is a lawyer